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Acai and brain health: Has study unlocked Amazonian fruit’s neuroprotective effects?

By Stephen DANIELLS , 04-Dec-2013

The potential brain health benefits of açai (Euterpe oleraceae Mart.) may be linked to an inhibition of the aggregation of beta-amyloid proteins, says a new study from Australia.

The build-up of plaque from beta-amyloid deposits is associated with an increase in brain cell damage and death from oxidative stress. This is related to a loss of cognitive function and an increased risk of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide led by Daphne Wong have now reported that select polyphenols from the native South American palm berry may inhibit this build-up and explain the reported neuroprotective effects of açai.

Commenting on the results, Alexander Schauss, PhD, Senior Research Director of Natural and Medicinal Products Research at AIBMR Life Sciences, and a leading researcher into açai, told us: “Wong's group may have found the underlying mechanism for the phenolics in açai could contribute to this Amazonian fruit pulp's neuroprotective effects against age-related loss of cognitive function and memory and even a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases.”

The paper corroborates work from other groups, he said, including a poster Barbara Shukitt-Hale presented at the Society of Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, on the in vivo results reported by the USDA-HNCA group on its study of aged rats.

Dr Schauss is also the co-author of a recent book chapter on açai’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids in the Polyphenols in Human Health and Disease (edited by R.R.Watson, V.R. Preedy, S. Zibadi).

To-date, pulp of the berry has been demonstrated to affect cell signaling, enzyme activity, maintenance of the oxidant and antioxidant balance, receptor sensitivity, gene regulation, and reduction in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, while restoring or maintaining functional cellular antioxidant status.

Study details

The new study, published in Neuroscience Letters , examined if açai extracts afforded any protection the loss of cells due to the effects of beta-amyloid. Results of the in vitro study indicated that pre-treating cells with açai extracts and then exposing them to a specific form of beta-amyloid called Aβ1-42 resulted in significantly less cell loss, or an improvement in cell viability. No such effects were observed for the beta-amyloid form Aβ25-35, added the researchers.

Additional study indicated that the açai extracts also disrupted the aggregation of Aβ1–42 fibrils.

Take home

“Açai berry extract provided in vitro neuroprotection against the major neurotoxic beta-amyloid alloform, Aβ1–42,” wrote the researchers.

“Açai extracts and berry pulp possess high levels of anti-oxidants which are generally attributed to mitigating the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species in cell culture. However, distinct neuroprotection to beta-amyloid loss of viability by açai is a novel finding.

“This protective influence was associated with a reduction in both microscopic and biochemical indices of β-amyloid fibril formation, suggestive that direct beta-amyloid anti-aggregative properties may underlie some of the protection afforded by açai pretreatment.”

Source: Neuroscience Letters
27 November 2013, Volume 556, Pages 221-226, doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2013.10.027
“Açaí (Euterpe oleraceae Mart.) berry extract exerts neuroprotective effects against β-amyloid exposure in vitro
Authors: D.Y.S. Wong, I.F. Musgrave, B.S. Harvey, S.D. Smid

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